by Mar Precoma
Last week’s article listed the many threats to Ecuador’s spectacular biodiversity. This article will outline the main threat to biodiversity conservation: Deforestation. 34.5% of Ecuador’s land area is covered by forest. In 1986, the forest cover amounted to 48.1%. During the last few decades, forest in the average size of 110 American football pitches was cleared daily. Ecuador ranks second among Latin American countries in terms of deforestation levels. Of course, this has wide-reaching consequences for nature and humans alike.
Historically, deforestation occurred mainly in the coastal and Andes region. The coastal lowland region is still experiencing a high degree of deforestation caused by enhanced population pressure. The Andes region displays lesser deforestation, since much mountain forest was already cleared centuries ago. Current forest reduction in this area is usually due to the mining industry.
In the middle of the 20th century, the Amazon region was cleared for crop production. Since the 1970s, the main driver of deforestation in the Amazon Basin has been the expanding oil industry. This includes the construction of roads, pipelines, camps, oil wells and heliports as well as the land settlement, agricultural expansion and timber harvesting which follow after the establishment of roads. In recent decades, 650,000 hectares of Ecuadorian rainforest have been lost. Almost 70% of the Ecuadorian Amazon is divided into oil blocks, with more blocks to be added during the next years. The rainforest is covered by more than 9500 km of roads (roughly twice the distance between the US-American East- and West Coast) which connect more than 3400 oil wells.
Deforestation has large impacts on both climate and biodiversity. By destroying habitat it threatens the livelihood of many species and the functionality of ecosystems. At the same time, deforestation has grave consequences for local and global climate regulation. Deforestation in tropical regions is one of the main components of climate change. Burn activities and forest to pasture conversion lead to massive emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases. Global warming and diminished water availability cause even higher pressure on tropical ecosystems, resulting in species extinction.
Humans are deeply impacted by deforestation as well. The Amazon area is home to a variety of Indigenous communities who are being robbed of lands which make up the basis of their livelihood and cultures. Despite their vulnerability, the presence and territorial claims of Indigenous peoples constitutes one of the main obstacles to deforestation. Where ancestral lands are recognized, deforestation is 2 to 3 times lower than outside of those areas. By making it harder to hide environmental degradation, satellite images constitute another useful tool in the fight against destructive industries and compliant governments.
Laws and programs which address deforestation have been introduced, but the Ministry of Environment (which oversees the National Forestry Agency) is often unable to conduct forestry law enforcement due to funding shortage.
Two Rivers Reserve works in direct partnership with the local community in order to build and strengthen resistance to deforestation as pressures on land and cultures grow every day. It engages in reforestation practices in order to restore the area’s biodiversity. Planting trees is one of the many helpful and fun activities which interns and visitors of the reserve can engage in. If you would like to spend time in nature whilst restoring a unique ecosystem, you can visit the website for more information on internships and educational trips.
Brown, Kimberley. “How to Clear the Oil Spills of the Amazon Rainforest.” BBC, 17 Mar. 2020, www.bbc.com/future/article/20200316-cleaning-up-the-oil-spills-of-the-amazon-rainforest.
“Forest Governance – Ecuador.” Global Forest Atlas, 2020, globalforestatlas.yale.edu/amazon-forest/forest-governance/forest-governance-ecuador.
González-Jaramillo, Víctor, et al. “Assessment of Deforestation During the Last Decades in Ecuador Using NOAA-AVHRR Satellite Data.” Erdkunde, vol. 70, no. 3, 2016, pp. 217-35.
Mainville, Nicolas. “Deforestation in the Ecuadorian Amazon: 50 Years of Oil-Driven Ancestral Land Invasion.” Amazon Frontlines, 2019, www.amazonfrontlines.org/chronicles/deforestation-ecuador-amazon/.